China, US, South China Sea and Russia’s Irk towards Japan: Naval Patrols should be based on Regional States
Noriko Watanabe and Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
It appears that the Japanese government is seriously thinking about joining naval military patrols with America in the South China Sea. Yet, if military patrols only involve America and Japan then this will be upping the ante against China. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe therefore needs to think deeply about this. After all, Japan should be more focused on solving regional territorial disputes with several Northeast Asian nations. Therefore, for Japan to involve itself in the South China Sea on the behest of America, is a step too far unless regional nations invite Japan to participate.
Japan clearly supports America’s right of “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea with regards to naval operations. However, the various territorial disputes in the South China Sea involve Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Russian Federation and Japan
In this sense, Japan is clearly an outside party in the South China Sea and risks further creating tensions with the Russian Federation. Indeed, Japan’s involvement with supporting other G-7 nations against the Russian Federation over the crisis in the Ukraine, is further evidence of Tokyo entangling itself based on the whims of Washington. Therefore, genuine hope of solving important territorial and political issues between Japan and the Russian Federation are on hold over a crisis that doesn’t involve Japan directly.
On top of this, the Russian Federation under President Vladimir Putin believes strongly in a multipolar world. Yet, it seems that Japan is intent on maintaining America’s one-sided approach to international affairs. This sometimes applies to ‘from a distance,’ whereby Japan rubber stamps America’s actions in areas related to Kosovo, Syria and other parts of the world. However, even when it comes to more important geopolitical issues for Japan the same appears to happen and this notably applies to becoming involved in the Ukraine crisis and South China Sea based on the political objectives of America.
In another article by Modern Tokyo Times it was stated: “The crisis in Crimea (Russian Federation) and southeastern Ukraine isn’t of any major geopolitical significance to Japan. Other nations like America, France, Germany and the United Kingdom may think otherwise. This is based on their collective containment policies vis-à-vis NATO and European Union expansion that appears to be aimed at the Russian Federation. However, for Japan to agree with G-7 nations is shortsighted, even if Tokyo is more muted on the subject of the Ukraine crisis.”
Therefore, the Russian Federation will be looking at how events are unfolding in the South China Sea with a degree of skepticism towards Japan. This doesn’t imply that Moscow endorses China’s objectives in the South China Sea because the Russian Federation values strong relations with Vietnam and other regional nations. Yet, elites in Moscow will view Abe’s intention to be based on boosting the objectives of America – and upping the ante towards China by stealth. In other words, rather than Putin’s multipolar vision it appears that Abe wants to maintain the old order based on the aims and ambitions of America.
Japan – China and South China Sea
Abe therefore seems to be intent on upping the ante against China despite Japan not being directly involved in the South China Sea dispute. Equally alarming, it is clear that China is creating its own downfall because reclaiming all and sundry in the South China Sea isn’t realistic. In this sense, if Japan just sits back and endorses regional nations opposed to China’s encroachment politically and economically, then this is more than enough. At the same time, this more mild approach of non-direct confrontation will help to boost China and Japan ties.
Indeed, China’s claim to vast areas of the South China Sea aren’t realistic given the close proximity of many areas to various regional nations. Modern Tokyo Times states: “Political statecraft is a rich art in China because the ‘Middle Kingdom’ faced many geopolitical and religious realities that threatened on several fronts. Therefore, it is time for modern China to understand that demands over certain sea boundary claims are unrealistic in the South China Sea. Of equal importance, if China doesn’t want to play into the hands of America, then greater diplomacy is needed.”
It seems that neither China nor Japan are playing the game to the advantage of each other. After all, China is creating regional tensions with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines based on the actions of Beijing in the South China Sea. Similarly, Japan is involving itself in the Ukraine crisis and South China Sea dispute despite not being directly involved. On top of this, Japan will further erode relations with China and the Russian Federation based on pandering to America’s foreign policy objectives.
If regional nations ask Japan to join naval patrols in the South China Sea then this is a different matter because nations have joint patrols with various countries based on special ties – or developing future ties. Or, if a special meeting takes places whereby Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines ask for greater international support then Japan will be obliged to respond. For example, regional nations may reach out to nations like America, Australia and Japan in order to show international solidarity against China’s growing encroachment.
The BBC reports “China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols, while the US says it opposes restrictions on freedom of navigation and unlawful sovereignty claims – by all sides, but seen by many as aimed at China.”
Regional distrust towards China is clearly on the rise and last year Indonesia weighed in. The International Business Times reports “Indonesia has labeled Chinese claims to the hotly disputed South China Sea waters as a “real threat.” Vice Admiral Desi Albert Mamahit, who heads Indonesia’s Sea Security Coordinating Agency, told a maritime security focus group that the waters surrounding several of the country’s islands were in jeopardy from an encroaching Chinese presence.”
Overall, Japan doesn’t need to involve itself with joint naval patrols with America in the South China Sea because this will be detrimental for Japan in the long run. Similarly, if the issue becomes thorny then this will further deteriorate relations with the Russian Federation, given Japan’s support of America and other G-7 nations in relation to events in the Ukraine. Therefore, Japan should allow China to put itself into its own ‘South China Sea straightjacket’ while staying on the sidelines.
If Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines ask other nations like America, Australia and Japan to provide greater political support in the South China Sea, then this is a different matter. Then Japan must consider the option of holding naval patrols with various regional nations and other countries including America and Australia. However, for Japan to merely join America in patrolling the South China Sea then this will be detrimental for Japan. This notably applies to Northeast Asia and Japan isolating itself from China and the Russian Federation based on being deemed a bulwark for America’s ambitions throughout the region.
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